Short Story: Crazy or Brilliant?

The Galileo Space Station hung like a massive caltrop over Earth. It could’ve been used in a game of cosmic-scale jacks. At one point, it had been small enough to miss spotting with the naked eye. Now though, it was a shining star nearly a fraction the size of a waning crescent moon. Built of modular pieces, it could expand theoretically expand forever. Given each section’s exterior was covered in radiation shielding, power-collecting solar cells, it would do so without much trouble on Humanity’s part.

Already it had long surpassed the sizes of the ISS and its descendants. In fact, if laid upright by one of the caltrop’s spines, it would be the tallest structure ever to grace the Earth. For now though, the honor of hosting it belonged to space alone. And there the SS Galileo (SSG)– as it was often humorously called– was merely one artificial wonder among the infinite natural ones.

Life on SSG was an exercise in zero-gravity discovery. At least for those whom found themselves on it later in life than usual. Those born there, like all the others, couldn’t imagine eating anything but ultra-processed foods, sleeping strapped to a wall with their bed-bag zipped around them, or moving in a sort of air-swimming they’d developed. That is, of course, to say nothing of the infinitely enhanced activities of courting and sex in zero-G.

But it was, everyone aboard new and old knew, an essential, long-term study of human space-living and its effects and influences. Unlike most newcomers, none of the dozens of children born aboard SSG– in extremely complicated c-sections– had ever felt dirt beneath their feet, true-rain on their face, or real wind on their bodies.

Like them though, Lisa Sterling was as near as normal a little girl growing up in space could be. She’d even managed to build an average set of muscles, that though sinuous and lanky, could’ve allowed her to pass for any Earther without need to hide anything. She’d taken to weight lifting and physical exercise at precisely the ages required by the physicians and enjoyed them. More importantly though, she’d also taken to– and overtaken at that– the knowledge-based courses required for any of the hundred jobs aboard the ever-growing SSG.

At only fourteen, she graduated high-school-level mathematics and language courses to college-level courses. Having found freedom in helping to fix broken bits of the SSG, she was summarily offered a job as a mechanic and carried out her first space-walk at fifteen– the youngest person in history to ever do so, and indeed possibly the only one that might.

It was a short time after her sixteenth birthday that she sat– or rather floated– in her bed, arms out to scribble equations across a digital data-pad. Tablet computers had long been utilized aboard SSG where space was at a premium and only the most important things could be written on their limited paper-supply.

She was scribbling out a series of trigonometric equations when something dawned on her. She suddenly scrolled away from the previous work to start fresh. There she wrote her first theory. Through the course of a full-night, the young girl, brimming with life yet to be lived, scribbled and scrawled and and drew and charted. By morning, she was exhausted, but exhilarated.

She immediately went to the Overseer, a man as old as any aboard and in charge of running every administrative aspect of the SSG. She presented her work to him as she simultaneously shook off lackeys that tried to keep her from his office.

“Mr. Minaret, I have something you should see,” she said in her high, crackling, teenaged voice.

“Hmm? Ah yes, Miss Sterling.”

He waved off his secretary and head resource manager. They turned away begrudgingly, air-swam to the door and out through it. Minaret offered her a place before his desk, sat behind it with a slip of a belt against himself. Lisa followed suit before the desk and settled as best she could against the chair and its restraints.

“Now what can I do for you, Miss Sterling?”

She handed over her data-pad. He looked over the first line with a, “hmm?

For a long time he said nothing else. In fact, it was so long, Lisa considered excusing herself, but knew she shouldn’t. She needed to be here when he finished. She needed him to look her in the eyes and either tell her she was crazy or brilliant.

Unaware of her inner-thoughts, Minaret instead lowered the tablet to his desk, unconsciously keeping it from floating away. He stared past Lisa with his mental gears visibly at work.

“Ab-so-lutely ingenius,” he muttered.

Lisa felt tension drain from her. She could’ve sworn she felt herself float a little higher off the chair than before.

A few months later, Lisa stood before her completed design– or at least, what of it could fit or function inside the SSG-shuttle she now occupied. The ship looked like a compacted version of the old shuttles of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Indeed, if one had had its middle section removed, it would be identical to the ship she stood in. However, in the center of the rear cargo-hold, stood a curious contraption.

It was roughly four-feet tall, a equally as many deep. Its bottom half was like a 3D “X” that formed a plinth. From the X’s straight faces, tubes draped down into floor-panels, through the ship’s hull and into the vacuum outside. Via extensive fuel and electrical lines in them, the tubes fed a battery of engines formed around the shuttle’s rear. All of this was quite common, though not normally found in this section of the ship, nor indeed inside it at all.

Atop the X, stood Lisa’s contribution in a large, transparent cylinder. Through the cylinder’s center a thousand ultra-fine, superconductive filaments connected to a ring, in turn, suspended above a large hole that led into the fuel lines. Held tightly in the ring, was a jagged, blue stone like any other amorphously shaped rock. There was nothing inherently special about its milky, dirty look. It would’ve hardly even been worth a rock-polisher’s time.

It was, in fact, so much more than it appeared. Even a layman understood the importance of a new element added to the periodic table. That it had been created in a particle accelerator aboard the SSG by none other than sixteen year-old Lisa Sterling was little more than one more of its dozens of notable merits. Its most important one, however, was about to be tested.

Lisa double-checked the shuttle’s systems and locked down the its hatches. Seals hissed and inflated as she sat before the pilot’s controls. She’d spent a month alone learning how to fly the ship. The rest of the time– not spent building the contraption and its internal element– was spent convincing various worry-warts to allow her the test-flight alone. Seeing she would not be swayed, they could do little but acquiesce, no matter their arguments.

She ran through her pre-flight, then double-checked the straps that held her g-suited body into the shuttle’s command seat. She readied to decouple from the SSG.

“Everything’s in the green. I’m ready.”

A tense voice replied over her headset, “We read you, Sterling. Decouple when ready.”

“Decoupling now.”

She flicked a few switches, fired a short-burst thruster for a half-second. The Shuttle drifted harmlessly from its docking position.

“Coming about to get clear of Galileo,” she radioed.

One, in-built, flat-panel display that took the place of the pilot’s forward-window cycled through external camera views. It came to rest on one that simulated its position as if it were glass. The screen beside it was subdivided into nine views from various, other cameras that altogether gave a full image of the shuttle’s interior and exterior.

Through her forward display, Lisa watched as a few thruster bursts propelled her past the lengthy caltrop and into open space. She drifted aimlessly in vacuum, a slight spin to her momentum. She corrected to an imaginary, level-plane in her mind.

“I’m clear of the station. Preparing to fire the drive.”

“Roger that, Sterling,” the command center replied. “We’re all holding our breath down here.”

“Don’t pass out, Command, I’ll need you to dock,” she joked.

There was a laugh, and Command went quiet. She knew they were watching through an uplink aboard, but it was far from her mind.

With a deep, calming breath, she flicked up a red trigger-guard and threw a switch. Behind her, a hum rose to steady thrum.

“Holding so far, Command,” she radioed. No one replied. They were too tense. She knew why, and only worsened it with her next words, “Opening main fuel line and beginning burn.”

There was a hiss, not unlike a ruptured seal, and the thrum rose with a buzz. With a gentle, forward-press of a joystick, the shuttle lurched forward. Lisa was thrown back in her seat. No-one spoke or breathed.

Suddenly Lisa was shouting a long sustained, “woooh!” and laughing. It bled through her comm, shattered the tense silence. She barrel-rolled, looped, and zig-zagged to test the shuttle’s maneuverability, shouting excitement the whole way.

From an external view she saw Earth and the SSG as mere points on a horizon. Mars inched nearer with each minute. She aimed for it, five minutes later used its gravity to slingshot her around the planet and back toward Earth and the SSG. She was almost near the speed of light– not at it of course, but realistically as close as Humanity might ever get.

When she finally disembarked the shuttle, people were cheering, calling her the girl that conquered space. True as it was, and ecstatic as she was, Lisa thought of only one thing; she was either crazy or brilliant. Whichever it was, she had conquered space, opened its farthest reaches to a people long confined to one tiny planet, its moon, and its skies. No more, she thought, however crazy or brilliant.

Short Story: A Tragedy

I hurt. Everyday. They tell me that it’s “normal,” a part of disease. They say the aches and pains that incise my kidneys, steal air from my lungs, are expected, routine. The seizures that grip me, take control of my body away, and leave me feeling more exhausted than I could if I’d run for leagues more than miles. But supposedly, they’re “in line” with a prognosis.

Bullshit. None of this is normal, or routine, except that I’m dying. That’s what we do. We die. But I’m dying the most terrible kind of death, the kind where no-one can do a damned thing about it or even figure out why. I’ve spent months in and out of hospitals, chained to beds by I-Vs, Heart monitors, and catheters.

Do you know the pain or humiliation of a torn catheter? Or even what one is? It’s a tube they shove into your urethra. You know, that thing you piss with? I haven’t gone to the bathroom in almost a year. And don’t get me started on sponge baths.

You know that joke that guys like to tell; “Nurse, I’m ready for my sponge bath?” Well it’s all in good fun, until you wake up in the middle of the night, covered from ass to neck in shit from a year’s worth of liquid diets and hospital food, and have to have one. It’s not funny then. Or the other three-hundred odd times, with a different nurse every two nights.

But you know what’s worse? Even worse than the drugs that make you puke, or the humiliation of being on-display for med-staff 25 hours a day, or constant, nagging pains that cut and stab at you day and night, cause you to scream, cry, or rage through the morphine? You know what’s worse? Having a perfectly able body whither away before you– your perfectly able body.

When I first entered the hospital, before the misdiagnoses of metastasized carcinomas, leukemias, and a half-dozen other, terrifying cancers, I was two-hundred pounds of tonka-tough American muscle. I worked eighty-hour weeks as a welder, union-born and bred. I bled excellence and I sweat green. I had a half-mil house, a stunning wife, and two teenaged kids that’d managed not to fuck up their lives with dope or booze. I was living the American dream.

But like that great philosopher Carlin once said, they call it that ’cause you gotta’ be asleep to believe it. Christ what a wake-up call I got.

Have you ever seen a man, so big, strong, tough, that the only person you can think to compare him to’s a guy like Schwarzenegger? Well that was me. I may not’ve had the chiseled jaw, or that lady-killing Austrian accent, but I damn near had the rest. I was him. He was me. But that first episode? None of that meant jack-shit.

You know what they say about the bigger they are? Well, when I fell, I almost took a whole damned gas plant with. No bullshit. Working with an open flame, spot welding in a natural gas refinery carries its own set’a risks, but no-one ever expects to suddenly find themselves out of control of their body, seizing on the ground next to a flailing torch that’s half-cutting through a hot gas line. The only thing that saved me was the fact that I’d managed to cut the damn gas line to the torch in my state.

A plume of fire was roasting the air that was barely making it into my lungs, but the torch wasn’t strong enough to breach the full gas line ’cause of it. And thank fuck for those reinforced tanks. If it weren’t for their double-insulated walls, that gas would’ve exploded, caused a chain-reaction and taken the whole plant down with it. Of course, it would’ve spared me the agony that came next, but even with it, I can’t imagine having all that death on my shoulders. Even dead. Foreman said something later about 2,000 guys on-site, and I was the only one sick that day. Fuck, that would’a been a catastrophe.

The local paper did an interview with me not long after. They’d heard about the incident, wanted to try and drum up some of their own brand of fear mongering. They sent some hot-shot reporter girl over to try and make a fuss about the safety regulations. Christ, she could’a been my daughter. Fresh outta’ college and making those squinty, suspicious eyes at me. She sat me down to ask “hard” questions, but was stunned when all I gave her was the real truth. She batted her lashes a few times too. I guess she hoped I’d cave, screw the union and the gas company over.

I didn’t. There wasn’t anything to say. It wasn’t the job. It was me. They say accidents don’t really happen, but no one can predict just dropping to the floor and frothing at the mouth. As far’s I know, not much of that interview made it into the paper beyond a few of my own words. Guess they didn’t quite get the reaction they were hoping for.

That was when the Union began its own investigation. I talked to the rep that was in charge of the whole thing. He said it was a “formality” thing. Bullshit again. The gas company wanted to make sure they couldn’t blame me, sue my pants off, and take my benefits away. The Union rep eventually made sure to note there was nothing at fault on my end, beyond my obvious ailment. Legally, they couldn’t touch me for that.

What did it matter though? Through all that, I went from one doctor’s office to the next, every other night in the ER for seizures, chest-pains, near-on strokes. I guess something just wasn’t quite wired right in my brain. Maybe ol’ Pop’s genes were finally hittin’ their stride, givin’ me some of his late-life ills. I don’t know. But then again, neither does anyone else.

The first time I noticed the weight loss, I was being weighed at a specialist’s office. I was down to one-ninety, skin sagging and muscle half-eaten away already. He was one of the many specialists, I might add. In the end, he was about as useless as the rest of ’em, but only the first of the neuro-specialists I’ve had the great displeasure of meeting. That was the first time I heard about MRIs and EEGs. If only I’d known what fun those couple of words would end up being. Turns out, when you’ve got twenty year old ink in your arms from shitty, basement tattoos as a teenager, some of them might turn out to have metal in them.

The first time I had an MRI, it damn near ripped the skin off my arm. To their credit, everyone in the hospital freaked. They treated me good about it. They’re always nice like that– like they want to get you better, but really you know all they care about’s what the rest of us care about; putting your time in to clock out so you can go bang your spouse and fall asleep with a beer afterward. I can’t blame them for that though. That’s the human condition. That, and I’m pretty sure it wrecked the machine. Not many men can lay claim to causing a million dollars of damage in under thirty seconds.

After that, I spent three-months between the main bullshit and having to get my earliest tattoos removed and skin grafted on. You know where they took that skin from? My ass. That’s right. So now, not only was I bandaged on my arms, seizing three to four times a day, in and out of the ER and Doctor’s offices every other day and night, now I was walking around with a gimp because my ass hurt. Talk about shit or get off the pot. Hell, I couldn’t even sit on one.

At least I can look back on that and laugh. The rest ? All I can do’s shake my head.

That American dream I was talking about? It took a while– well, not really– but it unraveled into the nightmare we all knew it could really be. Almost as soon as things took a turn for the worst, I found out each of my kids were gettin’ into trouble– Son was boozing it up, and my Daughter was smokin’ pot on school grounds.

I guess I can’t blame ’em. They’re just kids and they don’t know better. Don’t have the “tools” to handle the kind of fuckery old dad’s health’s put ’em through. My wife on the other hand… The less said the better, but from what I understand, she’d fit right in with some of the army-wives that marry off just before their husbands’ deployments.

Whatever. Water under the bridge I guess. We’re all destined to do two things alone in this life anyhow; shit, and die. Well, I’ll have the latter covered anyway, even if I’m covered in the former when it happens. Maybe then, at least, I’ll be a good joke; he was such a shit he went out covered in it.

Ah hell, who knows, maybe medical science will finally reach a point that it can diagnose me. I doubt it. They say they don’t know what’s wrong with me. That all this breathless agony and withering muscle-tone’s in line with a prognosis and they’ve just gotta’ find the right one, treat it. I guess all they need’s a name. Something to call it, you know? Something hepatic, or encephalitic, or something with one of those -itis suffixes. I don’t know about them, but I call it life, and it’s a tragedy. A god damned tragedy.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Imagination

Imagination

 

Limitless possibilities,

Lore and myth, religion,

Ever-expanding realities,

All imagination.

 

Have you dreamed colors that do not exist?

And are you uncertain of that lunar eclipse?

Can you think of a good, midnight twist?

Does your mind ever draw a single ellipse?

 

Is there a creature, a character or little miss priss?

Are they raving or looting or feeling love’s first kiss?

And what of your dashing protagonist?

Does he cry out in pain, or march through the mist?

 

Battles and Wars, science-fiction,

these are the fruits of imagination.

Terror and horrors, and grotesque lim-er-icks,

all at the mercy of unkind critics.

 

Is it their mother or father’s mishap

that led your M-C into all that claptrap?

Or is it a quick emanation of craft,

something you cooked up, to bore or to shaft?

 

A dream, and a screen, and a few words obscene

A satirical note for life’s lamentation,

Women preen with white cream in a deadly latrine

The signs of life in imagination.

 

A clock, and a tower, or a friendly courtyard

a tock without power, sent by a bard,

a Cock ne’er cower, when stripped of its lard,

and will not hock nor sour a stolen key-card.

 

And if you should find yourself at a wall,

a book from the shelf to you will call.

With open mind, read the page and stand tall,

for imagination will no longer stall.

 

Worlds and worlds on paper you’ll write,

this I have mentioned, it’s one way to fight,

the stagnation of a man, whom has no part,

but to play to the crowd through his only art.

 

Be it pictures, of photo or ink in your sight,

or something more, it shall be your right,

to poke and to prod ’til a new creation

spews from the well-spring of imagination.

 

Belabored or bred or trained through the night

All you need do is keep your aim tight,

sights on the sun or the sea, or mountains

imagine them all, and a few thousand more tons.

 

When hope springs eternal just look to the trees,

submerse yourself in determination.

To keep yourself afloat in rough seas,

keep your mind on imagination.

 

For hours and hours one could go on,

‘specially ’bout the prodigal fawn

but for now I believe we’re on the same page,

our hearts and brains, imagination? No cage.